Microsoft Stealthware Angers Chinese PC Users

Bloggers in the People's Republic say the software maker's anti-piracy tool violates local privacy laws.
Chinese computer users are slamming Microsoft in blogs and Internet forums following the software maker's activation of an anti-piracy program that darkens screens if it detects unlicensed copies of Windows.

One user, Beijing attorney Dong Zhengwei, in an online post called Microsoft "the biggest hacker in China," according to a report published Wednesday in the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper. Zhengwei said the anti-piracy tool, part of Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage service, violates Chinese privacy laws, according to the report.

Another blogger said, "Microsoft has no right to control my hardware without my agreement," the Guardian reported. The newspaper said that the Chinese Software Industry Association plans to pursue the issue with Microsoft.

Microsoft estimates that global piracy costs the software industry about $40 billion per year in lost sales. Of late, the company has been hunting down hackers and pirates more aggressively.

Last year, Microsoft announced that a joint effort with the FBI and Chinese authorities helped bust a major ring of software counterfeiters operating from the city of Guangdong in southern China. The gang was allegedly responsible for manufacturing and distributing more than $2 billion in fake Microsoft software.

Microsoft is also drastically lowering its prices in some emerging markets to reduce incentives to commit software piracy. Microsoft last year slashed prices on boxed versions of Windows Vista by almost 50% in some parts of Asia.

Microsoft is no stranger to controversy in China. A Chinese company in January filed a lawsuit claiming that the software maker is using its technology without paying for it.

Zhongyi claimed that Microsoft is in violation of a contract that authorizes Microsoft to embed Zhongyi's Chinese-character translation software in the Windows operating system. Zhongyi claims Microsoft has not made a payment in 10 years -- despite its continued use of the software.

The software, called Zhengma, translates characters typed on an English-language keyboard into Chinese characters on screen.

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